The mountain roads of Murcia and Andalusia played host to the mid-section of the Vuelta a España last week.
Having been in the red jersey since stage three and frequently leading some of the other competitions, Chris Froome’s daily trip to the podium has become something of a formality.
As has the sight of his Sky team controlling things on the front of the bunch. Conspicuous support from the likes of Wout Poles, Mikel Nieve and Gianni Moscon has made the race appear all the more cruisier for Froome.
But he’s faced his challenges. On any given mountain stage, a small crew of rivals has gathered around Froome and his domestiques, and laid into him with their attacks.
Perhaps the most dangerous looking has been Vincenzo Nibali. The Italian’s been getting stronger and stronger as the race goes on. But he’s only been grabbing the odd handful of seconds here and there.
And then there’s the ever popular Alberto Contador. He’s not gained back much of the time he lost early in the race, but that doesn’t stop the Spaniard throwing in his curveball attacks one mountainous day after another.
For Orica-Scott it was a difficult week. The lightweight trio of Chaves and Adam and Simon Yates all had a tough time on the chilly climb up to the astronomical highs of the Calar Alto observatory. But with Chaves still fourth, some attacking riding from the Yates’ twins and Jack Haig’s wheelies, the show is far from over for the team.
The high peaks of southern Spain have offered some spectacular and difficult finishes for the field. Saturday’s stage 14 finish was beneath the antenna at Sierra de la Pandera.
With a well paced solo escape from an early breakaway, Rafal Majka took victory at the 1830m summit.
And earlier in the week, the race had passed under the distinctive karst landscape of El Torcal. It proved a dramatic section with a couple of crowd incidents, Contador lighting the touch paper, Chris Froome crashing twice on the final descent and his rivals putting time into him. All of which eclipsed a brilliant ride from Tomasz Marczynski, soloing to his second stage win in the race.
Miguel Ángel López also became a two time stage winner when he took summit finishes last week at both Calar Alto and the 2510m Alto Hoya de la Mora in the Sierra Nevada. A Colombian with an aptitude for altitude, he is arguably the best climber in the race and another great prospect for the future.
And between all that climbing action, there was still a bit of opportunity for the flatlanders to make their mark on the race.
By that we mainly mean Matteo Trentin. The Quick Step man had to get into breaks, conquer a pass and win an uphill bunch gallop, but he also joined this year’s multiple stage winners club with victories in both Elpozo Alimentacion and Tomares last week.
That took his total for the race so far to three. That’s right. You count ’em. Three.
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